Fishbone made headlines last week when the group’s song “Lyin’ Ass (expletive)” was played by Jimmy Fallon’s house band to accompany the appearance of Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann.
The incident typifies Fishbone’s career: the ability to court national attention and controversy and the inability to translate that into success.
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“The impression of them as superstars is very divergent from what life is really like,” Chris Metzler says.
Metzler, who grew up in the Kansas City area, is co-director with Lev Anderson of “Everyday Sunshine,” an illuminating new Fishbone documentary that opens today at Screenland Crossroads after finding critical acclaim on the festival circuit. Metzler will host a Q&A session after each screening today through Sunday.
Fishbone assembled in the late 1970s when the core members met in junior high. The Los Angeles band is considered one of the pioneering all-black acts to bridge the gap between heavy metal, punk, ska and soul.
“It was interesting because it was a story of these guys who really didn’t fit in anywhere but fit in everywhere at the same time,” Metzler says.
Metzler, a Fort Osage High School alum, studied business and cinema at University of Southern California. He never actually saw Fishbone during the band’s heyday of the mid-1980s to early ’90s. “I was familiar with Fishbone just based on their logo that all the skateboarders and alternative rock guys were wearing,” the 37-year-old filmmaker said. But the cultural and musical magnitude of the act offered a powerful draw.
“Whether you’re familiar with Fishbone’s music or even like it, hopefully there’s this kind of timelessness that can resonate with anybody. A lot of things in the band’s experience are entertaining — if a bit surreal — but they’re also things we can relate to with our own friends and family,” he said.
Once introduced to the members, the San Francisco-based filmmakers began documenting their story. Three-and-a-half years later — which included two tours of Europe — their assembled project debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
“It could have gone a lot of ways,” says Norwood Fisher, bassist and founding member of Fishbone.
“(Metzler and Anderson) represented the story rather well. They didn’t put words in anyone’s mouth. Through the good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty, I can stand by it as honest.”
Part of the film’s honesty involves dealing with the surrounding realities of the music business. Fishbone’s story is not always rosy, and the weight of internal struggles, coupled with professional disappointments, has worn on the six-piece act. By picture’s end, only Fisher and singer/saxophonist Angelo Moore remain with the unit — and even they are constantly bickering.
Fisher asked, “How many kids grow up thinking they want to be in a band? How many kids, to people in their 50s, wake up and go, ‘I want to do music. I want to be in a band. Rich. Famous.’ Out of all those people on the planet, what is the percentage that actually get into the position where they’re rich doing that?
“I always encourage people to dream and dream big — that’s how you attain what you want. But the reality is nobody tells you what the odds are.”
Metzler’s dream involved heading to Los Angeles to get into the advertising side of Hollywood. Within a few weeks of college, he “realized the thing I was thinking was advertising was really filmmaking,” he said.
During summers spent back in Independence, Metzler picked up a Super 8 camera and started dabbling in moviemaking. Upon graduating, he began creating music videos in the contemporary Christian and country-western scene.
“The cool thing about music videos is that they give you a big budget to essentially make short films,” he said.
In 2004 he co-directed the award-winning documentary “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea.” Narrated by shock filmmaker John Waters, the project details the former California Riviera that turned into a decaying ecological disaster.
So far, “Everyday Sunshine” (the title is also the name of a 1991 Fishbone single) has proven anything but a disaster for the musicians.
Singer/trumpet player Walter Kibby recently returned to the ensemble after a seven-year absence. This was a direct result of the filmmakers suggesting he help compose the score.
“Me and Angelo are also getting along better since we went to a little therapy session,” Fisher adds. “The movie was awesome to make, and that might have a little something to do with it.”